Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or to conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, typically do the following:
- Prepare patients for procedures by taking a patient's medical history and answering any questions about the procedure
- Prepare and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment
- Operate equipment to obtain diagnostic images or to conduct tests
- Review images or test results to check for quality and adequate coverage of the areas needed for diagnoses
- Recognize the difference between normal and abnormal images and other diagnostic information
- Analyze diagnostic information to provide a summary of findings for physicians
- Record findings and keep track of patients' records
Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in creating images of the body's organs and tissues. The images are known as sonograms (or ultrasounds). Sonograms are often the first imaging test performed when disease is suspected. Diagnostic medical sonographers may work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures. The following are examples of types of diagnostic medical sonographers:
- Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient's abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen. Abdominal sonographers may assist with biopsies or other examinations requiring ultrasound guidance.
- Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient's breast tissues. Sonography can confirm the presence of cysts and tumors that may have been detected by the patient, physician, or a mammogram. Breast sonographers work closely with physicians and assist with procedures that track tumors and help to provide information for making decisions about the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.
- Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These sonographers may assist with ultrasound guidance for injections, or during surgical procedures, that deliver medication or treatment directly to affected tissues.
- Pediatric sonographers specialize in imaging child and infant patients. Many of the medical conditions they image are associated with premature births or birth defects. Pediatric sonographers may work closely with pediatricians and other caregivers.
- Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive sonograms to track the baby's growth and health. Obstetrical sonographers work closely with physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.
Diagnostic sonography uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. The sonographer uses an instrument called an ultrasound transducer on the parts of the patient's body that are being examined. The transducer emits pulses of sound that bounce back, causing echoes. The echoes are then sent to the ultrasound machine, which processes them and displays them as images used by physicians for diagnosis.
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians create images, conduct tests, or assist with surgical procedures involving the heart. The following are examples of types of cardiovascular technologists and technicians:
- Cardiac sonographers (echocardiographers) specialize in imaging a patient's heart and use ultrasound equipment to examine the heart's chambers, valves, and vessels. The images are known as echocardiograms. The echocardiogram procedure may be done while the patient is either resting or after being physically active. Cardiac sonographers also may take echocardiograms of fetal hearts so that physicians can diagnose cardiac conditions during pregnancy. Cardiac sonographers work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.
- Cardiovascular invasive specialists or cardiac catheterization technologists, also known as cardiovascular technologists, monitor patients' heart rates and help physicians in diagnosing and treating problems with patients' hearts. They assist with cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a catheter through a patient's artery to the heart. They also prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents. Technologists prepare patients for procedures by shaving and cleansing the area where the catheter will be inserted and administering topical anesthesia. During the procedure, they monitor the patient's blood pressure and heart rate.
- Cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians specialize in electrocardiogram (EKG) testing. EKG machines monitor the heart's performance through electrodes attached to a patient's chest, arms, and legs. The tests can be done while the patient is at rest or while the patient is physically active. For a stress test, the patient walks on a treadmill and the technician gradually increases the speed to observe the effect of increased exertion.
Vascular technologists (vascular sonographers) are closely related to cardiovascular technologists and their duties are similar to those of diagnostic medical sonographers. Vascular technologists create images of blood vessels and collect data that help physicians diagnose disorders affecting blood flow.
Vascular technologists often measure a patient's blood pressure and the volume of blood in their arms, legs, fingers, and toes to evaluate blood flow and identify blocked arteries. They complete noninvasive procedures using specialized ultrasound instruments or blood pressure cuffs to record information, such as the blood flow in arteries and veins, blood pressure (blood volume), oxygen saturation, and the presence of blood clots in the body. Vascular technologists may work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.